When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When Your Childhood Insecurity is Actually Body Dysmorphia

When do vanity and insecurity go too far?
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The sides of my face didn’t match. From the front, I appeared normal enough, and my left profile was passable, but the right belonged to someone else. Nostril flaring out too much, bridge of my nose rising forward like a jagged stone mountain, massive cheek swirled with pink blotches.

Why did this patchwork rag doll have to be my own reflection? Was it the result of a birth defect, an accident while I was in utero?

I couldn’t blame my parents for my seemingly deformed physical attributes. I was adopted as an infant and had never seen a single soul who looked like me.

In elementary school, I’d agonize over my hair, wondering why it didn’t flow full and thick like other girls.’ It just fell limp, like straw. Straw hair to go with the mismatched, ragdoll face.

Whenever I wasn’t obsessing over my hair, I’d zero in on another feature, some new hamartia of my outward appearance I hadn’t noticed before. I remember thinking, what will be next? After I get over my nose/skin/hair, what’s the next obsession to monopolize my thoughts, spin circles around me like a gnat?

I use to hide behind a curtain of my hair so people couldn’t see the blotchy rosacea on my right cheek. I remember being nominated “the 3rd ugliest girl in class.” I wanted to claw out of my own skin.

How do you know what you look like? How does anyone know what they look like? Every time I’d look in the mirror, I’d appear as someone different. Every time someone took my picture, my chest filled with dread. I was a grotesque creature. A shape-shifting deformity. I knew it stemmed from self-absorption, but I couldn’t stop. Every reflective surface held a mystery.

By middle school, my fixations turned to my body. I remember doodling myself in my 6th-grade chorus binder—giant head, hair like a fistful of yarn, noodle arms, towering too tall for my age. At the time, I perceived myself as far too thin. Other girls could be stick-skinny and still look good, but not me. It wasn’t even so much my weight, as it was my shape. Abnormal.

It hurt all the worse feeling like I was alone in this. Other girls worried about being too fat, other girls got anorexic. “Real women have curves,” they said, but what about the rest of us? I was the only one too awkward and too thin, in my mind. An outcast, a walking deformity.

By high school, I’d gained weight and my self-perception of thinness vanished. It was the second semester of freshman year, and I sat on the passenger side of my mom’s car as she drove me home from school.

I noticed my face in the side mirror. Eyes dark and too serious. Pouting unintentionally. My head leaned back lazily against the seat and I was struck by the size of my face, my double chin spilling out from under it.

How'd I not noticed this before? I already knew I wasn’t skinny anymore, but god, how’d I missed that thick roll framing my chin and jawline?

It was yet another moment of insecurity welling up to drown out everything else. Then a succession of moments like that. And then the need to do away with yourself, to check off the days with steady discipline, punishing your body for its own existence.

I’d joke years later that my double chin was half the reason I’d ever been anorexic. I used to subtly reach up and trace beneath my chin with my fingers. At first, it served as motivation, a reminder: you do not need to eat. You’ve gone too far already and you have to correct it.

Then it was a checkpoint, a mile-marker: one day it was gone, all I’d felt was jawbone and skin, the curve of my chin down to my neck. It became yet another miniscule obsession, one of many places on my body I needed to check and re-check, to run my hands along, to feel the bone.

After four years of yo-yo dieting, at age nineteen my body dysmorphia changed forms again, sneaky as a chameleon. Its words were different, but the deeper message the same.

It was January of 2013, and I’d forgotten what it felt like to be warm. My weight dipped ever lower. I’d stopped wearing bras because I couldn’t stand the way it puckered out the little bit of flesh when the band clasped around my torso. In the back of mind, I recognized the irony: I was too skinny to even have boobs anymore. I didn’t need a bra, yet still felt too fat to wear one.

I couldn’t wear certain fabrics because of their texture, how it’d feel against my ribs, or against any bit of flesh, I felt the need to shed immediately. I couldn’t stand it when anyone touched my back or my sides. Only I could, and I did so constantly. Discreetly running my hands up and down my ribs, making certain I could feel their entire cage rippling under my skin.

This was when the body dysmorphia surfaced the clearest to me. I became a pawn in my game of control. Every move I made revolved around this objective. Preventing myself from bingeing, straining to hold up the peace in my family, keeping them in the dark, even as my physical heart began to suffer from the effects of my starvation. And then the game owned me.

I landed in the hospital, where I gained back most of the weight. In the days leading up to my admittance; however, I had some revelations. I started to let myself smile again. I painted my lips with color. The light shifted in the mirror.

Words popped out of the void and filled my head, repeating again and again. Control. Balance. Healing. I didn’t know what they meant at first, but they became a mantra. These were the things I could gain when I realized my own worth. They were like planets in my orbit. But they’d always been lopsided, out-of-sync, or downright lost in the darkness.

I began to explore the events in my life that had impacted me so deeply, so irrevocably. I even considered my adoption and its effect on my self-perception and some of my past behavioral patterns.

It’s hard to describe how things changed, how I finally saw myself as a person and not a walking deformity. My insecurity still exists, but it’s no longer all-consuming, literally—it doesn’t eat away at my muscles and wear down my heart, anymore.

I continue to live with shifting mirrors, photographs that haunt me—shadows, shapes, and colors sprawling into my semblance. The right side of my face still looks like a stranger sometimes, like a mismatched puzzle piece. But these days, more often than not, I can see that it really is me. And that it’s okay.

Cover Image Credit: Bekah Russom // Unsplash

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100 Ways To Practice Self-Care In Your Everyday Life, In 20 Minutes Or Less

Simple ways to start taking care of yourself.

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Life is overwhelming and distracting so it's easy to forget about yourself sometimes, but practicing small self-care acts is easy. Making time for yourself every day isn't selfish and is really good for your mental health. I think it's important for everyone to spend time doing things that make them happy and more calm, even if you only dedicate 20 minutes each day. Putting yourself first can lead to growth so many other aspects of your life.

Obviously, each person is allowed to practice self-care in their own unique way, but here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Do something new. 

2. Make a list of things you need to get done that week. 

3. Drink some hot tea. 

4. Go for a walk on a scenic trail.

5. Paint your nails.

6. Have a good laugh.

7. Buy yourself flowers.

8. Light a candle.

9. Do some tidying up.

10. Don't feel bad for saying 'no.'

11. Listen to music.

12. Slow down.

13. Drink a smoothie.

14. Run mindless errands.

15. Write down your goals for the week.

16. Talk to someone about the future.

17. Wake up early and get coffee. 

18. Take care of a plant. 

19. Take a bubble bath. 

20. Give yourself a compliment.

21. Give a stranger a compliment.

22. Watch a movie.

23. Put your phone down.

24. Declutter your personal space.

25. Go to bed early. 

26. Pray or meditate. 

27. Go for a drive. 

28. Make it a habit to stargaze. 

29. Read a book. 

30. Read poems. 

31. Sing loudly. 

32. Make a list of things you're grateful for. 

33. Drink a lot of water. 

34. Put on make-up for no reason.

35. Watch funny videos. 

36. Take a deep breath. 

37. Distance yourself from negativity. 

38. Unfollow people you don't care to follow on social media. 

39. Have a pajama day. 

40. Read an inspirational book. 

41. Call your parents/ loved ones. 

42. Donate old clothing. 

43. Dedicate a day out of the week to not eating meat. 

44. Do a fun craft or DIY project. 

45. Put on a face mask and relax. 

46. Do a small workout. 

47. Take a power nap. 

48. Listen to a podcast. 

49. Open a window. 

50. Open your curtains in the morning to let in natural light. 

51. Make your bed. 

52. Cook dinner instead of eating out. 

53. Play/ cuddle with an animal. 

54. At the end of the day, think of all the positive things that happened.

55. Moisturize. 

56. Buy a comforting blanket. 

57. Give someone a hug. 

58. Create a vision board. 

59. Have some alone time.

60. Enjoy the sun on your skin. 

61. Dance like nobody is watching.

62. Walk in the rain every once in a while. 

63. Drive with the windows down. 

64. Give someone a gift for no reason. 

65. Get a massage. 

66. Do something that gets your adrenaline running. 

67. Spend the day at the library or a book store. 

68. Organize your work space/ binders. 

69. Spend a weekend in. 

70. Recognize hard work and reward yourself. 

71. Sign up for a work out class. 

72. Eat lunch with a friend. 

73. Spend the day helping others. 

74. Get your hair done. 

75. Have a good cry. 

76. Use sticky notes. 

77. Color code your planner. 

78. Print out pictures and hang them up. 

79. Hang motivational quotes on your mirror and read them when you get ready. 

80. Do random acts of kindness. 

81. Buy fuzzy socks. 

82. Redecorate or rearrange furniture. 

83. Be present. 

84. Set a new years resolution. 

85. Make a bucket list. 

86. Stretch in the morning. 

87. Watch an interesting documentary. 

88. Make a music playlist.

89. Watch the sunrise or sunset. 

90. Explore somewhere new.

91. Be slow to respond to negativity. 

92. Have a game night with friends. 

93. Buy concert tickets. 

94. Have a nightly routine before bed. 

95. Eat your favorite dessert. 

96. Do something you've been putting off. 

97. Invest in essential oils. 

98. Manage your finances. 

99. Buy a new outfit. 

100. Make your own gratitude list. 

Try at least one of these every week and see how you feel! I guarantee you will notice a difference in the way you are living your life.

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Being Sick In College Is The Absolute Worst

College is hard both in health and in sickness...but especially in sickness.

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As a first semester freshman, the transition into college was hard, but there was one thing I was not prepared for at all: dealing with college when you're sick. Especially now, it's finals week, everyone is stressed out, tired, and very prone to illness. Despite my hardest efforts to stay healthy (drinking lots of water, taking vitamin C supplements, washing my hands, etc.) I still managed to catch what everyone's been throwing around, and it is the worst.

Not only do I feel incapable of going to class, since my whole body aches, I just feel like sleeping all day, which means none of the work I need to get done is getting done. This would've been difficult during any other week, but it being finals week, I have more papers and quizzes and tests to complete than ever. I'm sure many college students can relate when I say: I just wanna go hooooommmmeee!!!

On the bright side, I also have amazing friends who are helping me out. In college, since everybody's going through the same struggle, I find that there's a greater sense of family here. A friend from my English class sent me some more Emergen-C, and one of my BFFs did a CVS run for me. So although I miss my mom's homemade soup and warm hugs, I can take comfort in knowing that there are people here who care about me and want to help me get better.

So to all my fellow sickies, a few words of reassurance: We only have about a week left to go, we can totally do this!! A few exams and papers got nothin' on us, we're tough and smart and capable!! If you need to take a sick day, please do. Nothing is more important than your health and well being, not even grades. Take some medicine, sleep it off, and get stronger tomorrow! Make sure to drink lots of water, and try to eat something, even if it is just dining hall grilled cheese (Linkins Dining Center, I'm lookin' at you!) Persevere for a few more days, and we'll all be back home, chilling on the couch, and getting yelled at by our parents to do our laundry in no time.

Sending you all love and positive vibes for this finals season!

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